Thursday, July 29, 2010

You getting anything over there?

Modeling is quite powerful, eh? I say this comfortably without any "scientific" cushion. The influence of modeling is so lucid, the supply of anecdotal evidence so ceaseless in its bombardment of my eyes and ears that anecdotal no longer seems fitting.

What, if I may ask, are we modeling for our friends and strangers?

Here's a conscious movement we could give a twirl — you know, see how it fits: invite the possibility of pleasure. You don't even need any expertise (imagine that, no skills or preconditions). Start obvious: smell a flower. Eat it a little. Got no flower? What do you have? Smell that. You could find yourself sedated. Maybe repulsed. Indifferent. Tantalized.

Been there, done that? What, nothing new under the sun, you ole spoilsport? Perhaps we could consider ignoring what we think we know. Excuse ourselves from the vile company of certainty. Maybe what we think is lying around in the attic is gone. Maybe it was never there.

Smoking inside
Let me turn to my man Roland Barthes, he's generous, always with something for us:
Pleasure is continually disappointed, reduced, deflated, in favor of strong, noble values: Truth, Death, Progress, Struggle, Joy, etc. Its victorious rival is Desire: we are always being told about Desire, never about Pleasure.

Right on Papa B. Next time pleasure presents itself, let it linger. Maybe we'll find something worthy of our busy schedules.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I recommend an impassioned plea, skip your facts

Here's a little game I like to play with the school boys and girls — you can play too. Alright, first thing: don't try to "figure out" the answer, okay? I'm going to ask you something, I want you to guess the answer; consider the question and just spit out whatever you think the answer could be without calculating anything. Ready?

How much time elapses in one million seconds (you know, in a more manageable unit like minutes or days)?
How much time elapses in one billion seconds? 

I'll mention the answers in a minute, if you're interested to see how right or wrong you are.

What I'm thinking about is the way we use numbers-facts-stats to bolster our arguments. Yesterday, some people from a group operating under the name Environment Washington came by to enlist me in a battle to expand the borders of Rainier National Park. Their please-give-us-money salespitch was full of facts — I couldn't get a handle on any of it.

"We're hoping to expand the park from an ungraspable amount of protected acres to even more acres," they seemed to say. "The Obama administration has committed a difficult to fathom amount of money for National Parks and we'd like to get that money and use it to, let me check my notes here, ah yes, save trees and animals and stop logging, drilling and other things. However, we would like to increase leisure activities that don't include extracting resources. Hold this clipboard sir, I'll start your paperwork."

Why the numbers? I am surely not expected to think, "Rainier National park is only X number of acres, well that's a fucking travesty! Expand it now! Here's a hundo. How many acres will that buy? Oh, it doesn't work like that? Huh." I assume the numbers are there to make the pitchmen and women appear well-versed in "the facts" but these facts are utter and complete bullshit, which poses a problem. (When I say bullshit, I don't mean to say they're fictitious (how would I know and it doesn't matter), I'm saying the facts are hollow and unintelligible) Large quanities of small units are inherently confusing and lead to disconnects between the people trying to communicate ideas. A million seconds clocks in at about 12 days. A billion seconds lasts about 32 years. In an abstract sense, it's quite easy to see that a billion of anything is 1,000 times larger than one million of that thing. The problem, obviously, is the scale is overwhelming. Soon enough, I'm left wishing: give me something my simple mind can make use of, because I don't understand what these environmentalists at my door are fucking talking about. Maybe that isn't their objective. Maybe hitting people with information overkill makes them feel stupid and flooded and they're now ready to cut a check to get the source of anxiety (the solicitor) off the front porch (How did they get past the gate, anyway? Was the latch that easy to figure out?)

I suppose the great and obvious problem for the environmental movement in America is that we are the problem (it's so much easier when they are the problem), and our normal response to problems — throw money and resources at it in various ways — is not a terribly useful response measure (see: our other means of measuring the success of our solutions*). The earth's brutal indifference to our wants includes an aversion to bribery — we need to learn a new trick. Remember, we're not destroying the earth, the earth will be fine. We're destroying our ability to get what we want out of it (which is many different things that are regularly in disagreement). This should be the new environmental slogan, truly American in style: We're losing what we want!

If you find yourself needing to use large numbers, at least have the common decency to put them into some context we can begin to think about. For instance, I can't make sense of 6.8 billion people — the whole idea is nonsense. However, I can imagine spending one single second looking at someone (you know, a quick glance as you pass each other in line). If you told me I could spend one second with every single person on the planet, and it would take me more than 200 years to see everyone — without any sleeping or eating or tee vee or anything — at least I'm beginning to make some connection to the scale. Not much, but it's something.

*Quick note: If the kids believed reading was either a) important or b) enjoyable they'd be good at it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Anybody have any sanitizing spray?

Holy mother of self-aggrandizement. Have you ever seen anything this awesome? It's going to take more than a standard issue tube sock to get all this red, white and blue splooge wiped off my screen — and yours (sorry about that). It's almost like they didn't just make some minor changes to a drearily ornate product.

What should we call the car? Cherokee? Yeah, that sounds pretty cool... oh yeah, it's growing on me. I can't think of anything that better captures America's essence. Wait, wait... Grand Cherokee. You sir, are fucking brilliant. We should get a logo for it, is this taken? Oh, it is. Shit. No matter, we'll come up with something.

I suppose "honesty", via the handsome McPoyle brother, is more refreshing?

You can't really spoof a horror film, can you?

After much finagling (there was no finagling, those library beauties are easy-going, they'll give you anything), the Seattle Public Library was kind enough to lend me Baghead. The movie's plastic box reads, "The Funniest Spoof Horror Film of The Year!" Quick, name a horror film from the last decade that doesn't deliver at least a few winks and nudges to their knowing audience: Yes, yes, Ha-ha, you've seen this before, and we know you've seen this before, but we're doing it anyway, we just wanted to let you know, that we know, that we're not at all original in this respect. Noted.

Now, to spoof a horror film (this all seems terribly obvious now that I'm writing it), you've got to skip all that wink-wink shit and play it direly and oppressively straight from start to finish — and then we'll all laugh at that. Ultimately, it ain't about what you do, the audience will find something to laugh about, and for good reason: horror movies can get a little scary when you're too drunk to tell yourself, "this isn't really happening right in front of me." Tee vee can trick your drunk self, remember this.

So, the movie was quite fine and all.  I suppose I don't have anything much to say about it. I did like the closeups — it felt just a little like Cassavettes' Faces at a few points.

I did learn something, a word of warning to the uninitiated: don't — Do. Not. — turn the movie off because you're scared and would prefer the fear subside into sleep (I did just this. What? I'm not embarrassed, momma taught me to flee), as you probably know, this could work against you. Like reading Kafka (if you make the mistake of not laughing along the way), when the tension is surely unbearable, rest assured, the release valve will eventually be pulled. But, you've got to get there. Me, being the boob that I am, end up spending the twenty minutes petrified that somebody with a bag on their head is going to plop down in my front yard — all because I was too much of a wuss to finish the damn thing — my mother would be proud, probably?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I'm as sick of me as I am of us

I experience want. Various things for and from themselves and others — always with the fucking wanting. A challenge:

Stop actively wanting. Stop. Right. Now.

But, what about the good stuff we want? (one might ask) You know, not the oversexed worshiper-of-me that I'm hoping will paw my instruments on cue, but, you know, altruistic stuff.

That too.

I don't give a shit if you and your homies throw on those tie-dyes you bought from Goodwill, lay the peace-loving mood with some Pete Seeger, spin a doob the size of a zuchinni, and lounge around lusting for the most wonderful utopia our liberal art'd do-goodery could conjure.

Stop. That.

Desire is all wrong because it presumes to know the result of achieving whatever is being desired. Fuck desire. Just go experience. Don't actively want anything. Not peace, not fairness, not love, not happiness, not solidarity, not hope, not money, not sex. Which is not to say, don't love, be peaceful, or experience happiness or solidarity; please, by all means, experience these things with gusto when it happens. But don't want it to happen. Don't make it happen. Just be awake enough to see it when it does — just so happen — to happen.

Experience, be generous and don't act like a godforesaken vampire — taking the lifeblood of others so I can supposedly thrive. I am not special. There is no covenant. Don't think about our individuality — what nonsense. We're not humans nor are we humanoids. What are those meaningless categories?

We'll be beasts of burden here and beasts of prey there and if we're wasting time thinking about the future and the past, thinking about how to get what we want. Let's implore her to consider... the fucking future?

What future? The future is impossible. You can't see it. You can't hear it. You can't know it. To desire the future is to reject life. We may allege that this future is practical or necessary — whose terms are they? There are no promises, no guarantees, good folks. Promises are tools for assuaging the exact same fears the promises create: letdown and failure.

Do not hope. Do not promise. Do not want.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I still hate that I ruined my underwear for you

The Seattle library was kind enough to lend me Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

Then why you acting all crazy for? The pharmacy security steward asks. No answer given. No answer needed. Who knows? Who cares? What is crazy? Go buy everyone a drink.

If you're like me, this film will leave you tickled pink. A "theme" I enjoyed: the art of getting what you want.

Frankie (a call-girl portrayed by Eva Mendes) asks Lieutenant Terrence McDonough (Cage, her "boyfriend"), How come you only call me when you need something? This is one of the film's many questions that go unanswered — and rightfully so, there isn't really an answer. I suppose we're disinclined to think of our relationships as exchanges of goods and services, but that's what they are. Just as Terrence calls on Frankie for passion, companionship, drugs, someone to watch his father's dog, etc., she does the same — although we can replace the dog watching with protecting her from violent johns.

Terrence is pursuing results, the ends do justify his means. He can play it calm and cool or he can go postal — whatever befits the situation. A quick example of his ability to take it easy: His police crew is loading up in front of a suspect's house. Now, instead of blazing through the front door, Terrence opts to go through the neighbors house and enter the suspect's place from the back. So, how does he go about it? He knocks politely on the neighbor's door; when a woman carrying a baby answers, Terrence is quick to say "I need access to the apartment next door, do you mind?" Before she can answer, he turns his attention to the baby, "Awww, it's okay," rubbing the baby's cheeks as he slides past Mom. He doesn't really give her an opportunity to object — despite asking — but he also doesn't act like a dismissive wild man. Effective. He snags the suspect without incident, parading him out the front door to the adoration of his colleagues. "I love it," Terrence announces with a big grin.

If calm and professional works, he'll do it; when that doesn't offer a high probability of success, he'll try other means:

Now, this scene is obviously hysterical. The electric razor creates an ominous "I don't have time for any bullshit" effect better than words could possibly capture. After the nurse claims her grandson doesn't want to be a witness, Terrence sums up compulsive behavior: This is bigger than want to. (Every time he slaps the nurse's hand I crack up.) A little later, after the ladies submit complaints about Terrence's tactics, internal affairs gets on our detective's case. The Captain informs Terrence of the pending investigation, prompting him to hilariously ask, "Oh, come on, they’re going to pull public integrity into this? What for?" The Captain replies, "that old woman, her son is a United States Congressman." Another fun recurring theme: if you fuck with power, expect a power struggle.

Yes, as I've read some people cheer and others jeer, the film is messy — I suppose it was designed to be so, not that I'm overly concerned with artistic intent. There is no direct cause and effect. The opening scene (Terrence sacrifices the quality of his $55 underwear by entering the Katrina flood waters to rescue an up-to-his-neck inmate), perhaps the only selfless act in the film, leads to split consequences: chronic back pain and a promotion. The rest of the film is about adjusting on the fly and taking advantages of opportunities — which isn't to say well-wrought plans won't go to shit. Which also isn't to say things won't work out after the plan goes to shit (this happens several times in his attempts to arrest the "bad guys" — none of the characters are proper villains — and pay off his creditors).

By the end, Terrence is still adapting, but he hasn't discovered any Truth, per se, because there isn't anything for him to find — he's not even looking.

God's law trumps Big Man's law

A riot burgeoning from the digital orifice of the NYT this morning. Apparently, Obama and the Evangelicals are finally joining forces. Yes! I think Laurie Goodstein (great name, better reporter) is the best thing they have going over at the N.Y.T. For extra fun, check out her heart-warming piece on Jerry Falwell's legacy (you'll get to see Jerry crowd surfing). She describes him as pugnacious, which, surprisingly, does not mean crazy bigot. Anyway, from this morning, my highlights:
“My message to Republican leaders,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and one of the leaders who engaged his non-Hispanic peers, “is if you’re anti-immigration reform, you’re anti-Latino, and if you’re anti-Latino, you are anti-Christian church in America, and you are anti-evangelical.”
Right on, Brother Rodriguez. However, call me curious, but, I just happen to be anti-Christian church in America (you know, lapsed and non-practicing — it's kinda a social thing), does that make me anti-Latino?
Each side draws on Scripture for support. Those who oppose comprehensive immigration overhaul cite Romans 13, which says to submit to the government’s laws. Supporters cite Leviticus 19: treat the stranger as you would yourself.
Both of these scriptural prescriptions sound pretty god damned crappy. The government? strangers? No. Thanks.
One of the more recent converts to overhaul is Mr. Staver. He said that deporting illegal immigrants violated the biblical imperative to welcome the stranger. “We’re going to break up families,” Mr. Staver said, “and I don’t see how you could claim to be pro-family and condone the separation of families.” (To which Mr. Fischer responded, “We don’t want to break up families, so let’s help them all return to their country of origin.”) 
Mr. Fischer is hilarious. Did he say, Help them? What a clever euphemism for force them.
 But Mr. Blackwell said the whole effort could implode if the final legislation extended family reunification provisions to same-sex couples where one spouse did not have legal status. For evangelicals, he said, “That would be a deal-breaker.”
Indeed, keepin' a simple hierarchy of needs, evangelical style: "Love strangers... but queers!? Oh no, we're going to do what we can to harrass, harangue, humiliate and dehumanize those guys and gals. Praise. The. Lord. For it is wise."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trust, who needs it?

I'm going to play the half-baked bullshit philosopher on this (as opposed to my normal persona?): prepare yourself accordingly.

Look at this guy to your right, I have heard people say this. A few seconds to destroy years of building? What the hell is going on with this type of thinking?

For quite a while now, I have been down on trust, although I've done very little thinking about it. I've railed against "should" because of the its obnoxious and ridiculous sense of knowing — an ugly stain of certainty on dilemmas collar, if you will. But with trust, I think it's the... let me slow down. Let's take a crack at a definition. What is trust?

One way to define it: a firm belief in the reliability of someone or thing. Now, I get reliability as a practical matter. When I head out of town for a week and I ask my buddy to feed the cat and water the plants, it's very important to me that I don't come home to a dead cat (the plants, meh, fuck em'). But, of course, this is a very tangible, relatable, practical example. Let's move beyond thinking of reliable as someone who can complete assigned tasks. Reliable asks for consistency. Consistency is, I think, a fairly complex idea. An example: someone — I don't know who, let's say me — might argue that consistency is an essential element of a criminal justice system. This, of course, creates a whole shit ton of problems. What do we want to be consistent? I can't think of anything, not the process, the penalties... nothing. If we assume everything else is ever-changing (you know: the peeps, the culture) should the justice system and those who administer it not be ever-changing as well? By that half-assed argument, the only valuable form of consistency is constant adaptation — which, supposedly, democracies don't do too well; or societies in general if McLuhan had the idea right.

So, I'm going to turn away from consistency as a bearer of, dare I say it, virtue.

When someone proclaims or utters, "I trust you," are they really saying, "I think you'll do what you think is best for me?" In which case, yikes. Is trust our veiled attempt to avoid anguish via avoiding decisions that don't have us in mind? Does trust strictly privilege me over we and you

Help me out here. I want to say, fuck trust as this all important pilar of the human relationship. It's too self serving, or something.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Three things wrapped in one

1. Enjoying William S. Burroughs
2. Thinking dubious thoughts about dog and man
3. Abhorring violence in the name of safety

All from The Cat Inside:
I am not a dog hater. I do hate what man has made of his best friend. The snarl of a panther is certainly more dangerous than the snarl of a dog, but it isn't ugly. A cat's rage is beautiful, burning with a pure cat flame, all its hair standing up and crackling blue sparks, eyes blazing and sputtering. But a dog's snarl is ugly, a redneck lynch-mob Paki-basher snarl... snarl of someone got a "Kill a Queer for Christ" sticker on his heap, a self-righteous occupied snarl. When you see that snarl  you are looking at something that has no face of its own. A dog's rage is not his. It is dictated by his trainer. And lynch-mob rage is dictated by conditioning.
 On prevention as a safety measure:
At Los Alamos Ranch School, where they later made the atom bomb and couldn't wait to drop it on the Yellow Peril, the boys are sitting on logs and rocks, eating some sort of food. There is a stream at the end of a slope. The counselor was a Southerner with a politician's look about him. He told us stories by the campfire, culled from the racist garbage of the insidious Sax Rohmer — East is evil, West is good.
Suddenly a badger erupts among the boys — don't know why he did it, just playful, friendly and inexperienced like the Aztec Indians who brought fruit down to the Spanish and got their hands cut off. So the counselor rushes for his saddlebag and gets out his 1911 Colt .45 auto and starts blasting at the badger, missing it with every shot at six feet. Finally he puts his gun three inches from the badger's side and shoots. This time the badger rolls down the slope into the stream. I can see the stricken animal, the sad shrinking face, rolling down the slope, bleeding, dying.
"You see an animal you kill it, don't you? It might have bitten one of the boys."
 And because I don't want to decamp on that last note:
I have observed that in cat fights the aggressor is almost always the winner. If a cat is getting the worst of a fight he doesn't hesitate to run, whereas a dog may fight to his stupid death. As my old jiujitsu instructor said, "If your trick no work, you better run."

(muffled chuckling) He said "excretion"

I like "bad" words. A lot. Watching a parent get visibly bent when their child overhears "fuck" is (I think undeniably) top-notch entertainment. Michael J. Copps, FCC stooge, entertain us:
"I am shocked by such an anti-family decision coming out of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Sadly, the court focused its energies on the purported chilling effect our indecency policy has on broadcasters of indecent programming, and no time focusing on the chilling effect today's decision will have on the ability of American parents to safeguard the interests of their children."
Anti-family? Did the court rule we're all going to be living communally like the traditional Chukchi people of Siberia? Like one big family. No? Oh, it's about curse words on tee vee? Okay.

The Court's ruling is not a sweeping change to the FCC's puritanical rules. Here's the deal. Apparently, when pseudo-celebs get in front of a microphone during awards shows, they use it as an opportunity to show how racy and hip they are. An easy way to do that: say a bad word when you're not supposed to. Networks would get hit with fines if they didn't bleep out the intruder, which I suppose isn't easy to do during a live broadcast. They found:
By prohibiting all 'patently offensive' references to sex, sexual organs, and excretion without giving adequate guidance as to what 'patently offensive' means, the FCC effectively chills speech, because broadcasters have no way of knowing what the FCC will find offensive. To place any discussion of these vast topics at the broadcaster's peril has the effect of promoting wide self-censorship of valuable material which should be completely protected under the First Amendment.
What does patently offensive mean? Not. A. Fucking. Thing. It's inherently stupid. The audience is heterogeneous. Placating to the whines of the easily offended is not mentioned in the First Amendment, I don't think.

Getting back to our hero, Michael J. Copps (that's his actual name, I didn't make that up) is concerned that the court spent no time (how he would know? I don't know) "focusing on the chilling effect today's decision will have on the ability of American parents to safeguard the interests of their children." Yeah, yeah, that's obviously bullshit and sure I'm picking the low hanging fruit on this one. But, what I like about his indignation is that it illustrates what I've seen to be a common phenomenon: it's not necessarily the idea that the words represent that causes the moral trouble, but — rather hilariously — it's the actual words themselves.

Perfectly exemplified by a rollicking scene in Robert Siegel's Big Fan (you know, Patton Oswalt, football fan gets beaten up by football hero, hilarity ensues). Oswalt's title character is riding in the car with his decorous mother. Mom is getting on Oswalt's case — normal mom to single son still living at home advice — son, you need a woman. She cites his brother as a good example. Oswalt loses his shit for a minute. His brother!? His jackass lawyer of a brother left his wife to fuck and marry his big fake boobied secretary. Mom takes offense, "don't say that." Oswalt asks, "what's worse, that Jeff actually left his wife to fuck his secretary, or that I said it?"

Good question.

postscript consideration: Copps appears to be more than stuffy moralism — as far as I could judge such a thing, that is.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Tocqueville, the 17th and our democracy

Ostensibly, some of the Tea Party movement favor repealing the 17th amendment (I say ostensibly because I wouldn't know, I've never spoken to any Tea Party-goers, certainly not anyone who claims to represent the group). Now, this doesn't sound terribly interesting, does it? Stick with me, maybe I'll get to something good, but I need to get through the setup first.

The argument for repeal, I assume, goes something like this: today, Senate candidates get their campaigns financed by people and organizations who don't give a shit about the state the candidate is trying to represent. (fair enough, I have no idea if this claim is true, but I follow). Additionally, if #17 is repealed, and state legislatures once again select US Senators, there will be additional public attention directed to the state government, which will lead to the localization of government decision making (or something like that. I think that is the argument; leave it to the states to decide).

Okay, so what spurred the 17th amendment? It isn't exactly easy to add new words to that sucker, so why go through all the trouble to make the change?

Muckrakers. You know, guys and gals who find scandalous dealings and make a big stink. Ah yes, raking some muck, so what happened? Well, I think you're going to like this. There was this fella, David Graham Phillips, loved to rake some muck, all day with the muckraking. He wrote for The Cosmopolitan Magazine (mind you, this was before Cosmo dropped the the and before those saucy gals figured out how to deliver the perfect orgasm and the best ways to get in shape for bikini season. Old Man Hearst owned the mag, and he loved the sensational). So, Phillips writes a series called The Treason of the Senate and it's a big hit. What is the treason? I'll bet you guessed it, the Senate is bought and paid for by the men with money, what Phillips called "the interests."
The greatest single hold of "the interests" is the fact that they are the "campaign contributors"—the men who supply the money for "keeping the party together," and for "getting out the vote." Did you ever think where the millions for watchers, spellbinders, halls, processions, posters, pamphlets, that are spent in national, state and local campaigns come from? Who pays the big election expenses of your congressman, of the men you send to the legislature to elect senators? Do you imagine those who foot those huge bills are fools? Don't you know that they make sure of getting their money back, with interest, compound upon compound? Your candidates get most of the money for their campaigns from the party committees; and the central party committee is the national committee with which congressional and state and local committees are affiliated. The bulk of the money for the "political trust" comes from "the interests." "The interests" will give only to the "political trust."
Phillips makes his case clear enough: the rich are running the show. People get pissed. Support for the 17th amendment swells. Why? Because, surely, The People — once they're given the right to directly elect Senators — surely will boot out the plutocrats, eh?

Uh, no. At least, not really. The Senate today is chock-full of people who are a little more than comfortable. According to this thing the NYT published in November of last year, the average net worth of a US Senator in 2008 was just a smidgen under 14 mil. Not. Too. Shabby.

So what, we have a plutocracy, big deal. The country worships money (somebody told me that, I won't vouch for them) it only makes sense we'd send rich folk to keep our government nice n' greasy. What's the problem? Tocqueville, take it away:
But under aristocratic rule public men have a class interest which, though it sometimes agress with that of the majority, is more often distinct therefrom. That interest forms a lasting common link between them; it invites them to unite and combine their endeavors toward an aim which is not always the happiness of the greatest number.
 When De Tocque wrote Democracy in America roughly a thousand years ago, the Republic was young, and he argues that young states haven't had much time to materially and ideologically drift apart, causing a rift between the ideals and interests necessary for an, at least somewhat, harmonious national character. It was in that time that he wrote:
In the United States, where public officials have no class interest to promote, the general and continuous course of the governmental is beneficial, although the rulers are often inept and sometimes contemptible.
 There is therefore at the bottom of democratic institutions some hidden tendency which often makes men promote the general prosperity, in spite of their vices and their mistakes, whereas in aristocratic institutions there is sometimes a secret bias which, in spite of talents and virtues, leads men to contribute to the afflictions of their fellows.
Inept and contemptible? Sure, but hey, at least democracy... fuck. When I think democracy in America, I think Lee Atwater. No matter what a congressional candidate says, don't give them your money (unless you're rich, then it's probably a solid invest).

However, we should definitely repeal the 17th amendment — that'd really crack me up. Instead of getting the money out of the elections (surely, that can't be done), let's just stop voting. Hilarious. Lovers of democracy indeed.

The most important thing is preserving brain cells for college

Enjoying mocking the advice of others isn't a gleaming personality trait. Acknowledged. NYT talks about talking to kids about the drugs, take it away:

There’s a moral question, for grown-ups who pride themselves on honesty and openness. There’s a fear that no matter how carefully you spell out the lesson of your own story, you may be offering your child an implicit lesson about the lack of consequences, a kind of I-did-it-and-I’m-fine parable.
And there’s a common parental anxiety about losing the moral high ground, a fear that someday this will be thrown back in your face. That can be especially troubling in more fraught situations, when children or parents (or both) are dealing with drug and alcohol problems.
Ah, yes, the perils of the I-did-it-and-I'm-fine parable. You know, for the grown-ups with all that honesty pride, this is going to be a tough one. But whatever you do, do not cede the moral high ground. Once the ability to lord over your children with soul-tugging shame and guilt is gone, well, you might as well send the kids down to the docks with some lubricant and knee pads. At the end of the day, parents need to toe the line and drop the company mantra: drugs. are. always. bad. Tell me more doctor-expert Sharon Levy, give me the goods:
You don’t need to tell everything. But if you decide to answer, don’t lie. “Tell them without glorifying it,” Dr. Levy said.
Well, shit. Which one is it? Conceal the facts with a half answer? don't lie? don't glorify?... these mixed signals are stressing me out; got anything to drink?

How about giving this a try: "Son/daughter, Some things are not for kids. From the state's perspective, you're an insane person, you really can't be trusted to do most things — that's why you don't have the same rights that I do, and you need to ask to use the bathroom, understand? When you're an adult, junior —which is to say, when you've lived for a certain amount of days, 6,570 sounds about right — you can enjoy the same drugs and alcohol your Mom and I use when we send you off to sleep-overs at Timmy's house. Until then, hit the books and focus on getting into the most prestigious school that will have you. You know... cha-ching!"

Yeah, that might work. But doesn't this just encourage kids to wait until they're older to use drugs and alcohol? Yes. Back to Levy for some final words of wisdom:
What we want to do as parents is transmit wisdom — even if we acquired it the hard way — without our children’s having to take risks. “So you drove without a seat belt and you didn’t die in a car accident, does that mean you want your kid driving without a seat belt?” Dr. Levy asked.
Yes, okay, good. The children should never have to take risks, you know, so they can grow up to be wise. The seat belt example = gold. Not wearing your seat belt and smoking grass are both bad ideas with no benefits at all. Wait?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We bought Mexico, fair and square. Now get out!

Most of the great results of history are brought about by discreditable means.  — Ralph Waldo

Couldn't have said it better myself, Ralphie Boy. Gotta do what you gotta do to get what you want.

Hey, but what about the babies of immigrants? While we're chatting, what is the correct interpretation of the 14th amendment? You know, with almost a century and a half of hindsight, what did they really mean? George Will knows:
Sen. Lyman Trumbull of Illinois was, Graglia writes, one of two "principal authors of the citizenship clauses in 1866 act and the 14th Amendment." He said that "subject to the jurisdiction of the United States" meant subject to its "complete" jurisdiction, meaning "not owing allegiance to anybody else." Hence children whose Indian parents had tribal allegiances were excluded from birthright citizenship. 
Appropriately, in 1884 the Supreme Court held that children born to Indian parents were not born "subject to" U.S. jurisdiction because, among other reasons, the person so born could not change his status by his "own will without the action or assent of the United States." And "no one can become a citizen of a nation without its consent." Graglia says this decision "seemed to establish" that U.S. citizenship is "a consensual relation, requiring the consent of the United States." So: "This would clearly settle the question of birthright citizenship for children of illegal aliens. There cannot be a more total or forceful denial of consent to a person's citizenship than to make the source of that person's presence in the nation illegal."
 Congress has heard testimony estimating that more than two-thirds of all births in Los Angeles public hospitals, and more than half of all births in that city, and nearly 10 percent of all births in the nation in recent years, have been to mothers who are here illegally. Graglia seems to establish that there is no constitutional impediment to Congress ending the granting of birthright citizenship to those whose presence here is "not only without the government's consent but in violation of its law."
Los Angeles hospitals are full of criminals, get em'! What about the children of violent criminals, George? Can we take anything from them? Remember, this isn't so much about our laws, it's about the unwarranted suckling from America's teat —we won't stand for it!

Do recall: you can't rebel against the state, and still be in good standing with the state — the 14th amendment is clear about this (it's right after it says only 21 year old males can vote). No more separatists, no more revolutions — change will only come from within the well-rigged system —no creating new states! Remember, the state looks to legitimize and preserve itself in whatever it does, and it does not want competition.

Ole' # 14 is just another way of saying something my father absolutely loved to say when resolving disputes, "My house, my rules. My way or the highway." But wait, my 13 year old head considered for a moment... what highway? I can't go anywhere, the state would round me up and send me back here. What is this or you speak of?

I assume G. Will doesn't mention that name of the Supreme Court case he's quoting from — Elk v Wilkins (1884) — because anyone who uses this case to support their views on the rights of citizenship risks exposing their unabashed loathing of the politically weak outsider looking in.

Here's how the case went: John Elk, a Native American, was born on the reservation. One day, he renounces his "tribal allegiance" and moves to Nebraska. He's now off the reservation — fuck, that was not supposed to happen. Charles Wilkins takes the stage to show Mr. Elk who is running things. Elk enters the voting registrar's office (Wilkins' office) in Omaha to do what people do in registrar's offices. As he came through the front door, members of the secretarial staff quoted Wilkins as having said, "look at this fuckin guy." No, you can't vote in the United States, the Court ruled — you. are. an. Indian. Go back to where they came from (said with or without a sense of irony). Just as Will recommends we say to children of illegals — your. parents. aren't. from. here. Go back to where they came from (again, with or without a sense of irony as related to military conquest of Mexico, taking Texas, California and the places in between).

What is this "consensual relationship"? There certainly is no negotation. The state lays the rules, abide or do not abide, there will be consequences.

Life sucks, and then you die. (inspired by a true story)

The title of this here post, someone said this to me the other night. I followed up with:

How do you mean?

Reply: You know, life is shitty.

Now, I could offer you the comment's context, I could recap the conversation or explore why the speaker thought it appropriate and useful, but who cares? I want to celebrate this bit of ontology: life is shitty.

Shitty, eh? Potential matching words: a) unpleasant, b) worthless, (or if taken literally) c) covered in shit. Now, any schmuck can make an example-based argument to support any of these "shitty" synonyms. Let's take a look.

We'll get c) out of the way first. Sure, shit is everywhere.

a) Let us celebrate unpleasant for a moment. Experiencing an unpleasant feeling is — I do declare —wholly subjective. What could be universally unpleasant? It's always dependent. This is great news; it gives some things to talk about: Oh, you didn't like that? I liked it, what didn't you like? Comparing experiences is the basis of social interaction, right?

Additionally, even if you were foolish enough to want to, you couldn't have pleasant without unpleasant. You need the contrast. By saying, "this is pleasant" you're positing that something else exists — the unpleasant.

b) How about worthless? We're basically looking at the same situation we had with unpleasant. If we say something has no value, you're still operating in terms of value. (sidebar: I'm not making any claims about capital T truth. My intent is to maybe alleviate a little anxiety about anxiety.) If everything in this life had no worth, no use... and this life is the only thing we know, well, then the whole idea of value and use is void. Again, inherently subjective, where would arguing get us?

So, it's not that life is inherently unpleasant, worthless, shitty. It's that we physically and emotionally experience these things. I believe anguish is the word for it.

If this is the deal: anguish is an essential part of life, then there's little reason to fret (embrace that agony! You're living.). Create a purpose (who cares, anything will do, all you have to do is buy into it) and, as J.R. Boyd might say, you really have to start fucking shit up in your own way.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Inglorious? peut ĂȘtre

First part of an intermittent series in which I'll "review" commercial films that most cinephiles have already seen and discussed. It'll be called, The Seattle Library was Kind Enough to Lend Me....

Inglorious Basterds

It was cute.

Story: As the German war effort crumbles, commanding officer Aldo Raine (Pitt's character, a bootlegger back in Uh-murica) directs his off-the-grid crew of Jewish-American soldiers to commit genocide against Nazis, because, you know, they started it. Keeping with the genocide theme — and to display the film's cuteness — they run around occupied France scalping Nazis because, you know, that's how Native Americans and the new-to-town white settlers/invaders enjoyed doing it back in the good ole' days when genocide was civilized and clearly unavoidable.

Lesson for the kids: Murderers can be scary. But, murderers with a morbid and creepy shtick are entertaining. After high school, this will be important to remember.

Lesson for the adults: Go down with the ship; never go turncoat on your mates — you'll end up getting Manson'd by Brad Pitt in the final scene... not good.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

They have Dreams! Counsel them, God damn it!

Career counselors have a plan for you!
It’s Never Too Early to Help Children Think About Their Futures
"I'm failing," Kate* confessed. The smart, first-year college student sank into the chair with a look of shame and disappointment. As Kate’s academic counselor, I learned that she was failing, not because she wasn't studying or understanding the material, but because she didn't like biology — and it was her major!

Now, I could be wrong here, but I'm going to wager that Kate's Bio-fail was directly tied to her not understanding the material (or not understanding what her Bio-nerd prof was asking for). Otherwise, this would be a tearful entry in Kate's reflective journal: "I studied up, I really did! I understood all of the material, answered all the questions correctly, but the professor didn't care about that! The final question on the final exam asked, "Do you like Biology? Yes for an A or No for an F." I couldn't lie, I answered "no" and despite nailing that exam (I studied and understood the material!) the teacher flunked me. If only I liked Biology..."

(The * notes that Kate's name has been changed — no need to question Blackwell's professional ethics.) She goes on:

The classic film, The Graduate, exemplifies the confusion and angst that young people often feel when making a career decision. Our society places much emphasis on career choice which can be closely linked to our identities. As children we're asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"; as teenagers, "What are your plans after graduation?"; and even as adults, we're faced with, "So, what do you do?" When a young person is still exploring his interests, give permission to say "I'm not sure yet."

Tara Blackwell, professional career counselor, may have missed what The Graduate exemplifies. But what she didn't miss is what our society places emphasis on: W-O-R-K, work, work, work! Evidently, Blackwell isn't too concerned that our "career choice" becomes "our identities." I'll take issue in her stead.

What do you, young girl or boy, want. to. be. when you grow up?

Now, why would the interrogator ask this question? Fuck if I know, but let us take a gander. Presumably, the adult is seeking an angle — a way of seeing this child — and an answer to this question will produce a relatively comfortable style of interaction. Here's what it looks like:

I (playing the adult) ask the question, the kid says, "basketball player," I scurry around looking for mutual interests, like this: "I don't understand the salary cap system in the NBA, fucking complicated, right? What's the deal with the sign and trades? Doesn't that seem like a blatant skirting of the so-called rules?" Kid looks at me quizzically, I determine he/she is not so interested in salary restrictions and "field-leveling" revenue sharing (just a kid, after all, not interested in the important stuff), I adjust my quest for common conversational ground. "Do you like insert local team here?" (Me too = Friends.)

So, the what-do-you-want-to-be when you grow up question isn't soaked in sinister intent, it's a way of seeing another person — but a shitty way. I'm pulling it out, let the plunging begin:

Kids don't know much about how adults make money. They've seen the tee vee. They probably have some vague idea of where their parent(s) and family members go during the night or day in order to get money. They almost certainly go to a school of some kind — it's against the law to not go. Mix in some internet, some friends, whatever — kids, like "adults", don't really know how the money works. (1)

Here are two ways, opposite ends of the spectrum, that you (parent, school person, professional career counselor, etc.) could go from here.

Way A) Recognizing that the kid is callow in the ways of adult money-making, let's show em' how we do it. The CBS news says 45% of people are "satisfied with their work. 45 purr cent! Take them there! This is Blackwell's way:
Initiatives such as "National Job Shadow Day" (February 2) and "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" (April 27) provide excellent opportunities for children to gain exposure to the workplace and develop career interests. Job shadowing and informational interviewing allow children to observe a professional in the workplace, receive real answers to career-related questions, and experience a typical day's work in that particular field. You can establish these opportunities by tapping your network of personal and professional contacts, as well as partnering with your child's school to arrange workplace field trips or career days.
Lastly, encourage your child to visit her school counselor to discuss career plans. Most guidance offices offer career inventories and resources that promote further exploration and provide help with the decision-making process.
A great way to develop career interests is by showing them careers, they'll even receive real answers, how dope is that?

Way B) Instead of showing them how the race is run, instead of teaching them skills, let them have fun (all types, bad might not be bad), teach them how to communicate pretty good, and then —oh, I don't know, when they're ready — sit. that. kid. down. It's time for a talk. We're going to make a life-plan!

Here's how to do it: Perhaps, this talk could make mention of the herds of people who are miserable in their careers. Suggest (I suggest to you) that a career is not — in and of itself — good for you. Work isn't necessarily your friend, and hard workers don't always get rewarded. Besides, these "rewards" are often mislabeled as universally worthwhile, for everyone — you'll like it, trust us, it's shiny.

However, all is not lost (this is where you, in corporate speak, "soften the blow"). Advocate for minimizing your fiscal responsibilities and material ambitions (here's the pill and a bus pass/bicycle, youngster, go forth) and maximize your generosity (in other words, when it behooves you, pay attention to what the fuck people are doing and respond with a touch of gusto — whatever that could mean). You might, just maybe, find a way to skirt the 60 hour work week and have some non-cubicle time to yourself. You won't be able to commute in a slick new Bee-Murr, and your pool is going to be shit. But hey, you give some, you get some?

Remember, if the kid is fuzzy on the moral, make it clear: there is no right or wrong way to live — we're not big on morals — but that career you're considering might-just-be a sack of horse shit wrapped in lost time.

(1) Overheard at school:

Teenage boy: Barack Obama is going to put the whole world on the same currency by 2012!
Teenage girl: Really?
Teenage boy: Yeah, it's gonna happen.